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By Patty Roesch
Tunes from Bob Marley’s “I wanna jamming with you” drift along the breeze and through the door of Pirate Isle, the new spice and sauce store on Cedar Key.
Inspired by the Jamaican heritage of her family, Carol A. Merritt would visit Jamaica with her mother in the ‘8’s and fell in love with the culture. Soon after, she began making Caribbean jerk seasonings only to expand from there.
After years of working for other people, Merritt decided it was time to be her own boss, and in her 50s, she returned to college and got a degree.
She and her husband Whitney created a slew of original recipes and began selling them online in 1997.
What started with only a few selections has turned into racks of different choices. Pirate Isle now produces around 30 products. Hot sauces, seasonings, barbeque, marinade and everything in between can be found all within reasonable price ranges; $5.99-$9.99. Mango Guava, Tangerine Pepper, Cajun Blackening, Caribbean Jerk, and Mesquite Rub are among the popular Pirate Isle seasonings.
Blackbeard’s Steak sauce is one that landed a Scovie Award, a big thing in the chili-head world. Their Crow’s Nest Wing Sauce also landed them a Scovie award.
The store itself houses a variety of other labels close to 300-500 depending on demand. The average price is $8.99 but some can go as high as $141— like the hottest hot sauce available in the U.S. A waiver must be signed to purchase extremely hot items.
Pirate Isle has dedicated a sauce to the island. The Cedar Key sauce is a habanero sauce including, but not limited to, carrots and lime. It sells for $8.99.
Since her online success, Merritt’s products have landed her in some of the biggest festivals along the East Coast. Her spices have even brought dedicated followers who attend various events to buy products.
Pirate Isle has stores in numerous locations and Merritt’s granddaughter Jackie Jurcik, manager, said this is one of the best years they have had.
The Pirate Isle in Cedar Key is doing great, but it is only locked in until this month.
“We would love to stay,” said Jurcik. However ultimately staying or not will depend on how well products sell.
Even if Pirate Isle leaves Cedar Key, the products can still be bought online.